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Assert yourself and be heard

Assertive communication is neither aggressive nor passive. It is both directive and cooperative.

Listening is half of communication. The other half is what you say and how you say it. The best way to express yourself is to be assertive. Assertive communication feels neither aggressive nor passive. It’s a balance between issuing a directive and being overly cooperative.

Communication between siblings can provide some good examples. Here’s the super directive approach: “You need to call me too. Don’t make me do all the work to keep up our relationship.” That may make sense, but the other person may not take it in because it triggers defensiveness. And here’s the overly cooperative approach: When your sibling says, “I hope you don’t mind that I never call,” you reply, “No, it’s okay, whatever you want is fine” (even if it isn’t). An assertive approach would be: “I’d really like to talk with you on the phone more, and I know you’re busy. What can we do to stay in better contact?”

The approach is basically a combination of “This is what I need” and “Can you join my team in figuring out a solution?” It’s straightforward and mutually empowering, opening the door for real communication. And for the other half of the communication equation, read last week’s article about how to be a good listener.

Communicate better by listening better

Amp up your communication skills. Improve the other half of the conversation with “active listening.”

If you find yourself at odds with those around you more than you’d like, think about bolstering your communication skills. Communication is a key skill in all relationships, and half of this skill is knowing how to listen. “Active listening” lets your loved one, friends, and associates know that you heard them and understand their perspective. Active listening happens when the listener—you—takes part in the conversation, not just listens. Here’s how you do it:

  • Repeat back to the other person the gist of what he or she just said.
  • Reflect the other person’s feelings; that is, recognize out loud that you understand how he or she feels
  • If you need clarification, ask for it in a gentle way.
  • Show interest and curiosity in what the other person is saying.

To see what this might look like, watch this video from the Kansas National Guard about active and constructive communication. FOCUS has a handout on “Effective Communication Skills” that further describes this skill.

Tips for staying in touch during deployment

Deploying soon? Think about a game plan for communicating with your loved one. HPRC offers some tips.

Deployment can be a challenge for couples, but it can also be a time of potential growth for a relationship. Questions invariably arise such as, “How much should I share with my partner? How often can we talk?” Some couples easily develop a dynamic that works for them; for others, the feeling of closeness is hard to hold on to when one partner is far away. Whether it’s your first deployment or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some tips you can add to your deployment arsenal:

  • Balance talk of "everyday" things with more-intimate conversations about deeper feelings and meaning.
  • When there’s a lull in communication, whether it’s a day or a few weeks (due to mission requirements), think about creative ways to stay feeling connected such as journaling, burning video-diary messages on a DVD, or writing cards or letters.
  • Communicate marriage-related emotions that come up during deployment; don’t put them off for later.
  • If you’ve been through deployments before, think and talk about what worked for each of you and what you would like to do next time. Sometimes couples want the same things, but more often each person has different or even opposing wants. When this happens, it’s a good time to practice problem solving to find compromises that address each person’s desires as much as possible.
  • Take good care of yourself and use your favorite stress-management techniques. Stress can increase the likelihood of getting into fights with your loved ones!
  • Finally, don’t forget to weave appreciation for your partner into your conversations; read "Thankful for you?" to learn why appreciation is important for couples.

But most important: Figure out what works best for you. For more ideas on strengthening relationships check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

Build a better team

Group “cohesiveness” can contribute to Warfighter success. Learn how groups can establish and foster it.

There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.

Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.

In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:

  • Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
  • Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
  • Minimize conflict between unit members.
  • Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
  • Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
  • Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
  • Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
  • Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
  • Build resilience at the individual and group level.

Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Keeping family relationships strong

Maintaining strong family relationships can require some new skills or perspectives over time. Learn some relationship skills that are relevant for many families, but especially for the military lifestyle.

More than likely you’ve learned some great and helpful relationship skills through the years to keep your relationships strong. It can often be helpful to add some more to your tool belt to keep things going well (or to get them back on track). Check out HPRC’s “Keeping Strong Family Relationships for Military Life” for some strategies.

Care for the caregiver

Caregivers of wounded service members experience stress too. Learn some strategies that may help.

The wounds of war also affect the family members of injured or ill Warfighters. The job of caregiving often falls to a family member, and while it can be a rewarding job, it can also be stressful. Taking time for yourself is important. You run the risk of burnout when your attention is directed solely towards others without time to recharge. Below are tips to help you find balance in taking care of both your loved one and yourself.

  • View caregiving as if it were a team sport, not a solo one. Get other people to share the responsibilities.
  • Encourage independence by supporting your loved one to do as much as possible for him/herself.
  • Take a pro-active and positive perspective.
  • Have a take-charge attitude for problems, and then reframe those problems into challenges.
  • Avoid tunnel vision; find a balance between taking care of your injured loved one and taking care of yourself and others in the family.
  • Create a care plan for yourself that includes fun time, down time, and relaxation methods. For some ideas, check out the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website.
  • Seek professional help when needed.

For more information, read this handout on “Coping with Caregiver Challenges,“ which addresses common caregiver challenges such as stress and symptoms such as headaches and then suggests ideas for coping. Other strategies include keeping yourself healthy with exercise, rest, and eating well. For more ideas, check out the Traumatic Brain Injury website’s “Stress Busters” section. Building your stress-management skills can be a big help. Finally, assess yourself regularly to check on your well-being (to prevent burnout) can also be helpful. You can find assessments for caregiver stress at Afterdeployment.org (online) and Traumatic Brain Injury (for download).

Test your relationship’s “thinking traps”

Are you drawing false conclusions in your relationship? Learn how to question yourself to find out.

How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly prone to thinking traps that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/he no longer says so.

One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking. Some examples are:

  • What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
  • What did he/she do in the past that made you feel loved?
  • Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
  • When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
  • Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?

Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.

Taking a deeper look at love this Valentine’s Day

Filed under: Love, Relationships
Many people think more than usual about love on Valentine’s Day. This year, learn about a hormone that is linked to feelings of closeness and bonding.

Think about your feelings of connection in an intimate relationship, or the last time you were physically intimate with your loved one, and how you felt afterwards. Did you feel a flood of happiness, a feeling of closeness, or a sense of bonding? There is actually a physical reason behind some of these sensations: the hormone oxytocin.

Your body releases oxytocin into your blood and brain in response to sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, as well as everyday behaviors such as touching and stroking—usually in trusting relationships. Oxytocin promotes social bonds; that is, it makes you feel “close” (emotionally) to another person, and it makes you feel good. Specifically, it increases eye contact, your ability to remember faces, and feelings of trust, generosity, and empathy. Other benefits of oxytocin include reduced aggression and stress and increased bonding, especially maternal bonding after birth. In fact, oxytocin is so effective at making you feel good and loving that it’s often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle drug.”

With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, many of you have love on your brains. So now you can think about it from a deeper perspective: how oxytocin plays a role in your love life.

Adjusting to work relationships after deployment

Deployment stress can sometimes hang around and impact work relationships after you are back home. Learn more about common issues and tips to deal with them.

The stress of deployment can linger when you return home and resume (or start new) work responsibilities and relationships. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how much to share about recent deployment experiences in the work environment, particularly if your coworkers are not or have not been in the military. Some may ask a lot of questions and others may steer clear of the subject entirely. This can create an interesting dynamic in your work relationships. Afterdeployment.org emphasizes that discussing your experience is a decision that’s completely up to you. So think ahead of time about how much (if any) you want to share, and be cautious about whom you choose to share with initially.

Afterdeployment.org also describes some common problems that can affect performance in the workplace. For example, combat experiences sometimes can impact your sleep quality, making it difficult to be at your peak at work. Other possible issues include inappropriate anger in response to people or situations and feeling uneasy and unable to let one’s guard down in a crowded office or worksite.  This Work Adjustment factsheet provides more information and tips that can help with common issues, and another on Informal Relationships at work for more information.

Keep the happy in holidays: Wrapping up

Wrapping up our series on keeping the happy in holidays, mix and match the tips we’ve presented each week during the upcoming new year, as well.

Over the last 7 weeks, HPRC has run a series on tips for keeping the happy in the holidays this season for you and your family. We highlighted many strategies like being a gratitude hunter, how to be more optimistic, and how to accept things you can’t control. We also highlighted tips for your relationships, such as setting appropriate expectations, identifying possible friction points ahead of time, and celebrating your family and friends. Look back over the last 7 weeks to read more.

In wrapping up, our last tip is to remember that you know yourself best. Try a combination of the tips we highlighted each week to see which ones work for you, the ones that fit your strengths and where you are right now in life. Ups and downs are common during the holiday season, but if you keep your perspective, stay realistic, make time for fitness, and foster new memories with your loved ones, this just might be your best new year yet!

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